Wolf Spiders are Great Mothers

Wolf Spider spiderlings
Wolf Spider spiderlings

All female spiders are great mothers. Eggs are laid in silken sacs that, in most cases, are tucked away in a safe place under leaves or debris or closely guarded by the female. For free-ranging Wolf Spiders, they take their egg sacs with them – securely attached to the spinnerets located at the end of their abdomens.

Seeing a spider with a white ball attached to its backside is a head-turning event even for those of us that look for spiders. For Wolf Spiders, they take parenting to the next level by carrying their newly hatched young on their backs – the spider equivalent of opossums.

For these free-roaming spiders, this makes sense. Unlike web-building spiders, they do not stay in one place. Being a protective parent means taking the children along for the ride. But there is a lot to do to pack up the eggs for the journey.

wolf spider
Wolf Spider with Egg Sac (Janet Wright) Rabid Wolf Spider Rabidosa rabida

As with most spiders, the process begins by laying down what will become the bottom half of a shallow silken bowl. Fertilized eggs are deposited into the bowl, then covered with the top half. If you look closely at any Wolf Spider egg sac, you can see the seam where they were joined. A bit more silk to secure it to the female is all it takes to get on the road.

Should the female be disturbed or if the sac is pulled off, the mother will grab the egg sac with her pedipalps (shorter leg-like appendages next to her fangs). Only when the coast is clear, will she reattach the sac.

Once the spiderlings hatch, they actively climb onto the abdomen of their mother for a bit more time with mom. In reality, this behavior has two benefits. First, these vulnerable young do have the protection of their mother for a few more days. Mortality is high for these young, many falling victim to other spiders. Secondly, these rides on mama’s back also helps distribute young across the landscape.

So there you have it. One more cool thing to look for as you roam around your yard.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

Photos courtesy of Janet Wright (egg sac) and Andy O’Bryan (young spiderlings)

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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